The O'Nan Family Blog

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Confessions of an SBC Pastor's Daughter: Childhood Memories of the SBC Annual Meeting

June 1988 – That was when I attended my very first annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. It was in San Antonio, and I was seven years old, well on my way to being eight. Tensions were still high in the convention that year. I remember very clearly Foy Valentine, who had just retired from his position as Director of the Christian Life Commission (now the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission), came up to my family and angrily chastised my dad, sparing no swear words, for having my brother and I there as messengers. We were of course children, and Valentine assumed that we kids were voting in the conservative persuasion. The truth is, there was limited seating at the convention that year, and the only way my brother and I could sit with our parents was if we were registered as messengers.

My first annual meeting was certainly not my last. I have since attended many others in Houston, New Orleans, Indianapolis, Orlando, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, and other places. Some of those cities I visited multiple times for the SBC. As children, my brother and I would run around the convention center and play the Bible Nintendo games at the then Baptist Bookstore now LifeWay display. When we were voting on issues that looked like they would get a unanimous “yes,” we would raise our ballots to give two “no’s” – just to entertain ourselves and embarrass our parents.

My brother and I would laugh at things like “Committee on Committees.” What a silly name! I also learned what the word “lesbian” meant at the 1995 New Orleans convention. I was 14 years old, and had never heard of a lesbian until the SBC annual meeting. I kept hearing the word over and over and finally asked my parents what it meant. See, the SBC annual meeting is very educational. As I got older, I would check out the Baptist colleges. An ambassador from one of the schools (which shall remain nameless) tried to sell me on the fact that Point of Grace used to go there. I was not impressed.

Speaking of not impressed… Remember Geoff Moore and The Distance? Yeah, I met Geoff Moore one year at the convention. Remember DeGarmo & Key? I met Key. I also met some guy from the Newsboys – the bald one. I met all these B-rated CCM stars by just wandering around the convention hall.

One year, I met Jerry Clower. It was in Indianapolis – June 1994, I think. He was there to nominate Nelson Price as president. My dad used to always listen to Jerry Clower tapes in the car, so I knew all of his stories. Well, somehow, my dad convinced me to go up to him and ask him if Marcel Ledbetter was with him at the convention. For those of you who did not grow up with any class or social graces, Marcel Ledbetter is the star character in all of Jerry Clower’s comedy sketches. Jerry laughed and laughed. I was embarrassed. He then looked at me and asked, “Are you from Mississippi?” “No, sir,” I replied. “I’m from Georgia.” “Well, you sure are pretty enough to be from Mississippi.” And, do you know that that very fall, I moved to Oxford, Mississippi where my dad became the pastor of the First Baptist Church. I bet Jerry Clower had the gift of prophesy.

This year, I sat in Louisville during the annual meeting, but something inside of me wanted to be in Greensboro so badly. I don’t know if it was nostalgia or love for the SBC. I followed everything so closely leading up to the convention and during the convention. I saw real change starting to happen, and I wanted to be there for it.

It made me think of my dad Tom Atwood. I always knew that my dad was a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention. He was on the Committee on Nominations. He served on the Board of Trustees for Southern Seminary. He was the 1st Vice President for the Pastor’s Conference. But more importantly he worked hard to get lay people plugged into SBC positions, and he worked even harder to get people who had never served in the SBC into positions. He knew that “recycled leadership” was not going to get the convention anywhere, so he worked hard to get new and fresh people involved.

My dad associated with all types, although he himself was of the reformed persuasion. I remember my dad telling me about the time he walked out of the convention hall after a pastor had gotten up and told the messengers that “God had told him that the entire convention was to fast and pray on October 2.” I remember another time when someone was leading a prayer saying, “If we just pray enough, God will [do whatever we are asking him to do].” Dad rounded up the family and we left. I remember it as if it were yesterday. My mom looked at me and said, “We cannot pray God into anything,” Even with these minor incidents, my father never lost his love for Southern Baptists.

This year, my Dad was not able to attend the SBC. In fact, he hasn’t been able to go for several years now due to some pretty serious health problems. But he’s still working on getting new and fresh people plugged into areas of leadership. I’d just like to thank my dad for the love for the SBC that he has instilled in me. I’m thankful for the summers I spent in the convention halls across America. And I hope to attend an annual meeting again sometime soon. -LB


  • At 10:40 AM, Blogger Bolo said…

    For someone like me, who grew up as un-SBC as you get, yet still somehow ended up at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, I found your "confession" quite touching. Perhaps even moreso because I would probably have laughed my hair off (what little hair there is) if I'd been there to see your antics.

  • At 11:51 AM, Blogger Alex & Laura Beth said…

    Thanks, John.

    I do have to say that the part I wrote about "real change" was written before I knew about the alcohol resolution getting a positive vote and the "Integrity in Church Membership" resolution getting a negative vote. Maybe change is not happening as quickly as I would like, but I still think this year's convention became a turning point of sorts for the SBC. -LB

  • At 6:08 PM, Blogger Jennifer Lyell said…

    Very well stated--- I, for one, wish you would have been there as well. Of course, we may have both gotten fired because I'm not sure if we would have been positive influences on one another! But, it would have been fun....

  • At 8:19 PM, Blogger Laura said…

    LB, I saw your comment on Marty Duren's blog and was so proud!! Have you read the latest on Wade Burleson's, and all the ensuing hubbub, about the alcohol "resolution"? Hope everything's going well.

  • At 2:14 PM, Blogger Bobby said…

    Jerry Clower! My grandpa loved that guy. He had some funny stories.

  • At 10:27 PM, Anonymous Bobby said…

    Man, thanks for that. I'm an SBC PK from way back and have very similar experiences! I remember the 1988 convention as well (I was 12 at the time). Good times. My brothers and I would "no" vote just to embarrass our parents too! Must be a PK thing. Now my 4 daughters are growing up PK's... what am I to do??

  • At 4:59 PM, Blogger Nathan Finn said…

    Dear Oxford,
    This is a fun post. Thanks for this glimpse into your tortured past. Leah told me about it yesterday, specifically about how it reminded her of her upbringing and family vacations, er, annual trips to the SBC. And nice use of the phrase "social graces," which all of the Yankees and other bad people just don't understand. Take care.

  • At 9:53 AM, Blogger Alex & Laura Beth said…

    Bobby #1 - I knew you of all people would know about Jerry Clower.

    Bobby #2 - Thanks for stopping by!

    Nathan - Thanks for commenting! I trust Georgia will grow up going to the conventions too!



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